Bear vs Manero are one of the many unheralded gems in contemporary British music. Combining lyrical finesse and thunderous riffs, they are an intoxicating blast of raw power. Their releases to date include the singles “The Tale of the Chameleon and the Malcontent Cockroach” and “Now Is Not The Time For Impressions Rory Bremner” as well as their fantastic EP “The Bifacial”. But, as good as these are, to be fully appreciated Bear vs Manero have to be seen live; as I’ve said before, on stage they are feral and play with an abandon that teeters on the edge of implosion.
Steeped in the DIY ethos they are devoid of any pretence and are part of a growing movement in the South East that’s bringing a new energy and drive to the underground scene. Not content with churning out their unique brand of sonic amphetamine, they started their own label – Skingasm Records – to help promote the burgeoning crop of like-minded bands in their hometown of Medway. Whilst Medway trades on nostalgia – from Dickens to Billy Childish – and is recently (in)famous for returning a UKIP MP in last November’s by-election, Bear vs Manero represent a completely different local artistic community which is as eclectic as it is impressive. Long ignored nationally, and as a result forced to be self-reliant and innovative, Medway boasts a truly organic music scene which deserves to be recognised; this is Skingasm’s mission.
I interviewed the band – Daz (drums); Pete (bass); Luke (guitar); Dan (vocals) – following the recording of their first full-length album; if there’s any justice it will propel them into fame-and-excess-induced-rehab upon its release in May.
(((o))): So you’ve just spent the weekend recording your album, how’s it been?
Luke: We’re recording with Greg Webster at Sunlight Studios; it’s the third time we’ve been in there. This is the most comfortable we’ve been; a lot more effort has gone into the set-up for this. We’ve done 8 tracks in two days.
Daz: Greg’s great with the instruments, especially the drums. I’m definitely happier with these songs and how we sound now.
Pete: The sound Greg gets is just ridiculous. I said I wanted to sound like Kelson Mathias on the first Future of the Left album and that’s exactly what I got.
Luke: It’s been three years in the making. We’ve taken our time but it was the right thing to do; we’re much happier with where we are now. We tried a lot of things out in the early days.
Pete: We spent maybe the first year and half working out what we wanted our sound to be. It’s taken us a long time to come up with something that wasn’t shit! We recorded an albumbefore and we just released “Rory” from it; we just weren’t happy with the rest of it.
Dan: I stand by what we’ve done so far though; it is a learning curve.
Pete: The new album’s gonna be out in the Spring; we can’t sit on it that long but we want make sure we have everything in order, we want to get a video done, a few things like that…Dan’s gotta get marriage out of the way! We’re getting a tour organised too.
(((o))): How do you go about writing the songs?
Daz: Normally if Luke comes along with a riff it’s like a whole arrangement; the songs pretty much written. But if there’s nothing then at rehearsals Pete will come up with something that we can jam around and some of those turned into songs pretty quickly. We had some songs for ages and tweaked them over time.
Pete: Almost all our song have come either through a riff Luke has written at home and brought in or something I’ve come up with in the moment. Then we just play along and it’s always seemed to just happen. We are really sequential about it; we’ll come up with an idea then we’ll play like for the next three practices almost to the exclusion of everything else.
Dan: Considering we’re not four people that would consider ourselves “jammers” we jam a lot!
Luke: And tons got left by the wayside.
Pete: We’ve got about two albums worth of post-rock instrumentals we could release!
Dan: Yeah we could play them on the stage at Arctangent for a whole weekend!
Pete: But it seems pointless; it’s already been done and we’re not God speed so what’s the point?
(((o))): Your sound has got a lot heavier since you started; was that a conscious decision?
Pete: A little bit; there was one Christmas two years ago when I spent a week on my own listening to Doom metal and I came back and said “we should play doom metal” and we wrote Discordia. Since then it’s all been heavier.
Luke: That’s when I started playing in drop D!
(((o))): How would you describe your sound; is there any genre that fits?
Luke: We hope we have got elements of doom and elements of punk and grunge and noiserock. I hope other people see it and it’s not just us! We stick two riffs together even if they don’t naturally fit. There’s something nice about that; it forces the song together in an unnatural way.
Pete: We’re too metal for the punks and too punk for the metalers. It’s kinda doom but there a lot of compound time signatures that don’t make a lot of sense. A lot of things that add up to seven. That seems to be a recurring theme. We’re in a bit of a no-man’s land. People will come to us eventually or we’re wasting our time; we’ll find out!
Luke: There is a little circuit now of bands like us; at the start it was a hell of a lot harder. We played some awful gigs with lounge acts, RnB singers, but the metal gigs have probably been the worst actually because metal fans are well precious
Dan: The basic criteria is it’s got to make your Nan squirm! If she heard it would she feel uncomfortable?
Pete: We sound a bit like Dani Filth doing a set of Sebadoh covers with The Melvins.
(((o))): Who are you main influences?
Pete: Obvious musical influences are The Melvins, And So I Watch You From Afar, but other subject matter like Discordianism, Robert Anton Wilson, and just having been alive for so fucking long! A lot of the influence is the need to do this because otherwise it’s just work and TV for the rest of your life.
Dan: People who give a fuck influence us; seeing people care at gigs and actually coming along. That influences you because you want to keep making it better. That does sound wanky but there’s no other way of putting it really.
Luke: It goes back to the scene as well; we’ve fed of the local scene. That’s what keeps you going when you see something that’s actually building; people who give a toss and are really fucking good at it at the same time and you’re in there as well. That keeps it exciting.
Pete: To be fair Yokozuna have to take a massive amount of credit just for having been inclusive of other people and being true to doing whatever it is you want to do; letting other people worry about what you sound like and not pandering. And then Joe and Suze from Motherboy and Frau Pouch; we’re massively influenced by them and their DIY ethos.
(((o))): You’re very energetic live; crawling over the stage and jumping into the crowd. Is that something you’ve always strived to do?
Pete: There’s no thought put into it it’s just our personality. We all like And So I Watch You From Afar and they exude a certain joy on stage. And anytime I’m on stage I feel like Tony Wright’s there on my shoulder saying “Well? Come on do something you prick everyone’s looking!”
Daz: It’s fun, we love playing and so we look like we enjoy it. No-one says “We need to do this when we’re playing live” we just do what we do.
Pete: My mate was telling me about this hardcore band who were practicing their moves backstage! We do silly things but it’s got to be spontaneous or it’s just so lame. And it gets to be sexy sometimes.
Daz: For you maybe!
Pete: And Danno
Dan: I have taken the opportunity to mount you a few times yeah.
(((o))): Has anyone in the audience ever been hurt when one of you ploughed into the crowd?
Luke: Not people but mic stands; you must hold the record now for mic stands destroyed Dan?
Dan: I am a bit of a mic and mic stand swinger! It’s not deliberate, but it happens everywhere I go. If I did hurt someone it would mortify me to be honest. I do get lost in it at the time; I’m aware that there is a world out there but I get lost in my own thoughts. To hurt someone in that state would be horrible.
(((o))): You have strong connections with Medway obviously; what’s your thoughts on the music scene around here now?
Luke: It’s the best I’ve ever known it.
Pete: It’s fucking brilliant; I mean between Punching Swans, Frau Pouch, Black Light Brigade…
Dan: Kill RPNZL…
Luke: Broken Banjo…
Daz: …and UpCDownC have continued the whole way through it all and they’re still doing it.
Pete: I mean we set up the label because there are so many really good bands around here.
Dan: For a long time it did get stuck in a rut with that whole acoustic thing around here. So now it’s great to see people who aren’t afraid to make a lot of noise.
Daz: We’re all different in a way but none of us round here have anywhere else to go. That’s brought us together.
(((o))): People have said that Medway gets ignored because it’s a London satellite town and in the shadow of the big city; would you agree?
Pete: Nah. No-one gives anything that much attention because we live in this really multi-faceted world where everything is broken down to these tiny little niches. Practically every town in this country has a niche of little bands; you can’t expect get any special attention. In fact, certainly amongst our little scene and certainly since we’ve been doing the label, we’ve had more attention really than loads of others areas.
Luke: There is certainly something to be said about the fact that no-one tours here. I think that’s important. It’s an oddity to get anyone to come down. It’s only ever a handful. We’re in a corner of England and London is the closest thing to us. If you’re playing London why would you also come a half hour down the M2 to here?
Dan: There’s a lack of venues here too. But without Motherboy and Langer Promotions there’d be nothing here for the DIY scene in terms of getting bands from outside to play, like That Fucking Tank at Homespun last year.
(((o))): Do you think the fact that Medway is relatively overlooked has bred a DIY mentality?
Luke: That’s definitely a factor; it makes you try harder. That’s beautiful as well; people are pulling together. It does put your back up as well its like “fuck you we’ll do it ourselves”.
Dan: Yeah we have all come together because we’re all fighting the same fight.
Pete: That’s certainly true; you hear from some people down in Brighton that the bands are all unsupportive and bickering.
Daz: The lack of venues here is a problem for us all though.
Dan: The only way out of that is to group together and like stick a fiver in a month or something and get our own place going.
Pete: Booze merchants are not our friends. There’s a conflict of interest between people who want to sell drink and people who want to make art. The only thing we have in common with pubs is necessity. There’s constantly this battle where they want bands but they don’t want loud music, they want people in but they want everyone at the bar; it’s bollox. So we need to get our own venues that aren’t predicated on how much booze can be sold. Reclaim some spaces.
Dan: We’re in the garden of England man! There’s plenty of places out there; during the summer we’re gonna put together a few things.
(((o))): There does seem to be a common disdain for making money or fame amongst a core group of bands around Medway.
Pete: Yeah, part of it is being older; we’ve all got jobs and we all know that jobs suck; the whole point of this is it’s the opposite of work…its fun. As soon as you make it work its then work and it’s not fun.
Luke: You either make it happen or you try and make money out of it and it doesn’t happen.
Pete: There’s no money in this industry anyway, especially for niche shit. You can either go chasing money your never gonna get and be deluded about that and unhappy or just go “fuck it! We’re making art and having a laugh”. Making money is making money and making music is making music; they’re not the same thing.
Luke: You can buy a t-shirt if you want though!
Pete: £7 on bandcamp!
(((o))): Are you saying that any band that makes it has somehow sold out?
Pete: No. It depends on what terms they’ve done it. If they have happened to have made money by making something good fair play. But there is a little bit of me, and maybe it’s childish, that thinks as soon as you start considering “Will this sell?” and “Is this what fans are gonna want?” that fucks you over.
Dan: I don’t think so; fans are different to the general public. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think “would fans like this?”.
Pete: Yeah but once your art is compromised by you wanting to turn it into a product you’ve ruined it.
(((o))): And you started your own label; what possessed you to do that?
Daz: It’s the DIY thing. No one else was going to do it for us so we did it for ourselves. Rather than sending our shit out to radios and critics as “Bear Vs Manero” we thought people would have a look if it came from a record label.
Pete: With The Bifacial EP as an experiment we sent it to every record label on the planet and a not a single one bothered to reply to the e-mail. We realised that it wasn’t personal; what kind of transaction were we trying to make? We were going to a record label and saying “can you make any money out of our record?” and the answer is “No! No-one’s ever fucking heard of you”. So the reality is that if we want people to promote what we’re doing they have to be prepared to do it on a non-profit basis and the only people we can really rely on to do that is us. Skingasm is not a very commercially viable idea! Our fond hope is that one day we’ll be able to release records and break even. That’ll do.
Dan: There’s a lot of like-minded people within the scene locally and we were all thinking the same thing but Medway’s classically been a place where there’s a lot of talk but less action. We realised that between us, as Skingasm collectively, we could put something together and make it work.
Pete: If you’re a band it’s hard to push your own stuff and make music; there a conflict of interest and you look like a dick if you go around saying “my band’s very, very good”. After Christmas last year we made a concerted decision to put out the Punching Swan record because they’re brilliant. They’re a great band, we know people so we did it.
Luke: The bands around are too good not to publicise .We knew we could do something for them and help other people to hear this.
(((o))): Are you going to concentrate just on local bands?
Luke: No we’re not restricting ourselves to that it’s just there’s a lot around here. With each release we hope to get more savvy about it. It won’t just be noisy grungey music either; if we see an electronic band that we really like we’ll go in for that as well.
(((o))): How have the label’s releases been received and what about sales?
Luke: We’ve broken even.
Pete: Yeah we broke even on the Punching Swans album [Mollusc]; it wasn’t a massive outlay but we did pretty well.
Luke: The reception has been great; Mollusc has been played on the radio a lot and written about. I think it will make a difference in the long run. People are starting to murmur about a “Medway Scene”. Steve Lamacq mentioned it and so did a couple of others. When you hear that you think “maybe this is working”. That’s what this is all about.
Pete: And that’s part of the reason behind the label; to put a more identifiable brand on the local scene.
Daz: And it’s not just us either; its Motherboy and Greg, and the sleeve artwork by local musicians. Its building.
Dan: It’s the co-op thing; the ethos of DIY is properly flowing through here now. People know no one is going to wipe your arse and give you a Virgin Records contract. We’re growing now simply because people are making the effort. For each release we don’t expect the artist to do everything for themselves, they do stuff with us and they’re a part of the label.
Pete: We just help by showing them how to do things they don’t know how to do.
(((o))): Have you plans for the future?
Dan: We’re all going to France!
Pete: Yeah we’re taking five bands out to France in the Summer. And we have a Kill RPNZL record coming out, a Frau Pouch record coming out, probably a Punching Swans EP. A Punching Swans/Frau Pouch split single. Whitedevilwhitedevil too hopefully.
(((o))): What about music today; how do you see the current state of guitar-based music?
Pete: Best it’s ever been! From the point of view of a consumer of music. Every idea is being played out on Bandcamp; every band in the world is out there. But if you want to make a load of money it’s fucking terrible. Bands that are making records and t-shirts and all that for themselves are ok, but if you are a record label executive now must be a horrible time.
(((o))): Do you not think that there are maybe too many outlets now and just too much to digest?
Pete: Yeah but that’s why blogs have become such a big deal; they’re like DJs used to be. You know certain guys like your kind of music so you go to them for new ideas. We used to have a monoculture where everything was pushed through this very corporatized window. I often talk about the old system as “The World That Could Support Reef”; Reef were a very successful band who now would never get out of their garage cos they’re shit. They only got anywhere because they were handed a record contract for winning some bullshit competition with Sony. There were so many mediocre bands that were huge because they got serious backing, whereas now you have to have songs.
(((o))): So you think the standard is higher now?
Pete: The musical standard is way higher. Just look at technical ability; when I was a kid you couldn’t find a good drummer for love nor money now I know twenty. The means of production have been democratised; when we were kids in a band the idea of doing a demo in a studio was so unattainable, it would have cost thousands. Now any punk can go into a studio and make a record that sounds good. We just did it! The barrier to entry is so much lower. And so there are now all these amazing bands like Cleft and That Fucking Tank who never could have existed twenty years ago.
(((o))): But if you look say at the charts now there’s very little evidence that these bands are making any impression. At least 20 years ago you’d occasionally get some bands who’d come through and make a dent in the charts that were worth listening to. Now it’s shit the whole time.
Luke: But they’re two different worlds; that’s a completely separate argument
Pete: I don’t think the charts are any kind of objective measure of music quality. It’s a list of corporate products that have sold well this week. What the fuck has that got to do with the art world? The charts couldn’t be less relevant.
Dan: I don’t agree; if you look back to the 70s and 80s – even parts of the 90s – you did have interesting music. There were more interesting things and more avant-garde and expansive things. There was a smaller output generally and record labels could take a punt now and then.
Pete: You had a little more avant-garde in the mainstream whereas now we have a lot more avant-garde everywhere! I’ll take that. Before we had to take the occasional scraps from the masters table whereas now we have the full fucking smorgasbord laid out in front of us.
Luke: There’s a sub-cell today that’s much more interesting. Think about the fact that there is a three-day festival for post-rock with five thousand people. You wouldn’t have been able to do that ten years ago. There’s more out there but it’s just underneath the radar. That’s why we started Skingasm.
Pete: Exactly and that’s why Echoes and Dust and other blogs exist; it invites a level of creativity for curators, people who make it their job to find cool stuff and show it to the world.
(((o))): Ok; let’s end on a stupid question. Who would be in your dream supergroup?
Daz: We could be here all night!
Pete: Bowie’s got to be in there, although Tin Machine was a horrible mistake. And maybe he doesn’t play well with others does he?
Luke: Our supergroup could be just Bowie.
Pete: Yeah can we have that? Or Bowie and Bjork doing a duet of some kind.
Dan: Bowie and Bjork in cave with chicken bones and pots and pans; just let them create something incredible.
Luke: I’d buy that.
Dan: And maybe Janice from The Muppets; she seems fun.